7 Ways to Ski Lake Tahoe

Heavenly Mountain Resort, Lake Tahoe. Photo by: Corey Rich Photo by Corey Rich
By Eric Peterson; edited by Hannah Norman

Too deep to freeze, jewel-like Lake Tahoe sits in the center of some of North America's best -- and snowiest -- ski country. As far as the white stuff goes, powder-hungry skiers flock to this snow engulfed terrain for hopes of experiencing consistently record-breaking depths. Sierra-at-Tahoe, for one, has even eclipsed the 300-inch mark in early January. Storms totaling 10 feet are not unheard of in these parts.

Whether you stay in Reno, Nevada, or base yourself in California's Tahoe City, South Lake Tahoe, or Truckee, you'll have more than a dozen resorts to choose from on any given powder day. Lake Tahoe also has many smaller resorts with more affordable lift tickets and shorter lift lines, such as Diamond Peak, Sugar Bowl, and Boreal. But if you want to say you've skied Tahoe, here are seven ski resorts that should be at the top of your list.

Photo Caption: Heavenly Mountain Resort, Lake Tahoe.
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Tara Moore carving up the groomers at Mt. Rose Ski Resort, Lake Tahoe. Photo by Scott Sady Photo by Scott Sady
The nearest resort to Reno is understandably a local's favorite, with the highest base elevation of any of the Tahoe resorts at 8,260 feet. Mt. Rose is a mere 22-mile drive to the airport, making it the closest ski resort to an international airport anywhere in the world -- beating Denver and even Salt Lake City. It's even closer to the North Shore of Lake Tahoe. Offering breathtaking views of Lake Tahoe and the Carson Valley from its summit, Slide Mountain features Slide Bowl and the Chutes, 200 acres and 1,500 vertical feet of gate-accessed black and double-black terrain.

Best For: Value-seekers, travelers staying in Reno, or those flying in or out of Reno-Tahoe International Airport.

Fact File: A full 40 percent of Mt. Rose's 1,200 acres of terrain is black/expert, making it ideal for skiers who love steep runs.

More Information: Mt. Rose (tel. 775/849-0704; www.mtrose.com)

Photo Caption: Tara Moore carving up the groomers at Mt. Rose Ski Resort, Lake Tahoe.
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The Village at Squaw Valley, Lake Tahoe. Photo by Chris Beck
Squaw Valley -- host of the 1960 Winter Olympics -- deserves every bit of the hype. Nicknamed "Squallywood," the resort is in a league of its own, with a self-contained base village and North America's only funitel (a two-cable gondola) among its 30-plus lifts. The terrain comes alive in the amphitheater-like valley crowned with vertical granite features that are quickly targeted by salivating shredders on powder days.

Best For: Serious skiers and riders, and the see-and-be-seen crowd.

Fact File: Squaw has long been an industry leader in getting people up the mountain. (As resort founder Alex Cushing put it, "We're in the uphill transportation business.") Today, 33 lifts serve the resort's 4,000 acres, with a capacity of nearly 50,000 people per hour.

More Information: Squaw Valley USA (tel. 800/403-0206; www.squaw.com)

Photo Caption: The Village at Squaw Valley, Lake Tahoe.
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Alpine Meadows in Lake Tahoe. Courtesy Alpine Meadows Photo by Alpine Meadows
Melding small-resort personality with big-resort service, Alpine Meadows offers a low-key vibe relative to some of its posh Tahoe peers. A hiker's paradise, the resort features the Frontside (with plenty of advanced and expert terrain up high) and the Backside (with open experts-only bowls and the Sherwood Forest).

Just 15 minutes away, sister resort Homewood Mountain Ski Resort (www.skihomewood.com) has the closest lift to Lake Tahoe (literally just across the street) and its own mellow micro-climate.

Best For: Hardcore types -- some of the best terrain here is accessible by foot, not lift -- and low-key skiers and riders looking for an affordable alternative to Squaw Valley, over the ridge to the north

Fact File: Alpine is near the top of the Lake Tahoe list in terms of the number of named runs (100) as well as the amount of annual snowfall (495 inches).

More Information: Alpine Meadows (tel. 530/583-4232; www.skialpine.com)

Photo Caption: Alpine Meadows in Lake Tahoe. Courtesy Alpine Meadows
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Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort in Lake Tahoe. Photo by Jorik Blom
Stripped of the glitz, Sierra-at-Tahoe offers a near-ideal variety of terrain. There's everything from the aptly named Easy Street for beginners to the expert-only backcounty of Huckleberry Canyon, not to mention standout grooming and terrain parks.

Located 12 miles west of Lake Tahoe's South Shore, this resort is the closest ski resort to both Sacramento and San Francisco. It can get its fair share of weekend crowds, for which a Fast Pass is the ideal remedy, allowing access to no-wait lift lines on the busiest days.

Best For: Beginners and value-seekers; there are ticket, lesson, and gear rental deals abound. 

Fact File: Annual snowfall here averages 480 inches, one of the loftiest totals in the nation. And because there is no artificial snowmaking at Sierra-at-Tahoe, the real deal is a necessity. 

More Information: Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort (tel. 530/659-7453; www.sierraattahoe.com)

Photo Caption: Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort in Lake Tahoe.
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Skiing at Kirkwood Mountain Resort. Photo by glenngould
Legendarily "steep and deep," Kirkwood sits atop the Sierra Crest and claims an average snowfall of 600 inches, tops in Tahoe. Defined by steep terrain just below its prominent upper ridge, Kirkwood is beloved by diehards—85 percent of the skiable acres are rated intermediate, advanced, or expert—but there are also a few gentle greens on either side of the base village. Guided backcountry treks are available, as are specialty clinics and avalanche preparedness classes. Kirkwood is part of the Vail Resorts family—which includes fellow Lake Tahoe resorts North Star and Heavenly—allowing for multi-mountain deals within the region and elsewhere.

Best For: Adventurous skiers and riders, and cross-country skiers.

Fact File: Kirkwood is not only the snowiest in the Golden State, but independent rankings have placed it among the five snowiest resorts in the world.

More Information: Kirkwood Mountain Resort (tel. 209/258-6000; www.kirkwood.com)

Photo Caption: Skiing at Kirkwood Mountain Resort. Photo by glenngould/Flickr.com.
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The skating rink at Northstar-at-Tahoe, Lake Tahoe. Photo by: Aaron Rosen Photo by Aaron Rosen
Luxury and ease are becoming the norm at Northstar-at-Tahoe: A ski-in, ski-out Ritz-Carlton opens its doors directly onto a gondola-connected base village. Like its sister Vail Resorts across the lake, Northstar offers the Epic Pass that works at various locations in both Colorado and Europe. 

On the mountain, there's plenty of gentle terrain, with a relatively easy route down from the 8,610-foot summit of Mt. Pluto. More advanced skiers and riders will gravitate to the Backside, a trove of lesser-skied black diamonds.

Best For: Families and those looking for Ritz-Carlton-level luxury.

Fact File: Northstar's seven terrain parks are standouts, respectively ranked third and sixth in the industry by Ski magazine and TransWorld Snowboarding.

More Information: Northstar-at-Tahoe Resort (tel. 800/466-6784; www.northstarattahoe.com)

Photo Caption: The skating rink at Northstar-at-Tahoe, Lake Tahoe.
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A sunny day at Heavenly Mountain Ski Resort, Lake Tahoe. Photo by Lukasz007
Accessible by gondola from South Lake Tahoe, the South Shore's flagship resort is the largest, highest, and most popular resort in the Tahoe region. With steep, challenging terrain near the bottom of the mountain and plenty of beginner and intermediate runs near the summit, Heavenly's 4,800 acres straddle the California-Nevada state line and offer unbeatable views of the deep blue waters of Lake Tahoe below.

Best for: Skiers looking for nightlife; the casinos on the Nevada side of South Lake Tahoe offer all of the usual vices, as well as surprisingly big names in the showrooms.

Fact File: With a summit elevation of 10,067 feet, Heavenly is the only resort in the Tahoe area that eclipses the five-digit mark.

More Information: Heavenly Mountain Resort (tel. 800/587-4430; www.skiheavenly.com)

Photo Caption: A sunny day at Heavenly Mountain Ski Resort, Lake Tahoe. Photo by Lukasz007/Flickr.com.
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